As Unilever prepares to launch the new global tea company ekaterra on 1st October, workers in Pakistan are protesting against local management’s deliberate deception and misinformation that has undermined job security and created even greater anxiety in a pandemic.
When Unilever Pakistan started the transfer of the Khanewal tea factory to ekaterra on 1st July, the Workers Union Unilever Pakistan (WUUP) requested more information about the terms and conditions of the transition and how union members will transfer to the new business. Management refused to respond, claiming that the union does not have collective bargaining status. This is despite the fact that WUUP represents the majority of workers at the tea factory. WUUP – a member of the IUF-affiliated Pakistan Food Workers Federation (PFWF) – argued that it does not need collective bargaining status to have the right to information about its members’ job security. Management instead misused an emergency safety meeting to make announcements to all employees, giving vague reassurances. When a formal “town hall” meeting of all employees was finally held, no new information was provided and questions by worried union members were ignored.
While the company claims it is only obliged to meet with representatives of the Unilever Employees Federation due to its national collective bargaining status, management conveniently ignores the fact there is no collective bargaining involved. It also ignores well documented corruption and collusion that severely undermined human rights and violated ethical standards in the past. In 2013 the leadership of the Unilever Employees Federation were charged with embezzlement of the workers’ welfare fund, which also implicated people in local management.
Even with the workers welfare fund accounts frozen while under police investigation, Unilever Pakistan management continued to make monthly deductions from workers’ wages. WUUP representatives at Khanewal asked management what will happen to these funds when ekaterra is spun off from Unilever on 1st October. There was no reply. Given past corruption and collusion, Lipton tea workers are worried their entitlements will simply disappear when they move to the new company.
Also unresolved is the fate of 33 WUUP members arbitrarily designated as “surplus” at the Lipton factory. Management refuses to discuss their fate with the union, raising fears they will be forced into redundancy on 1st October.
In recent years management transferred more machinery and work to third parties, reducing job roles at the Lipton factory. Despite company claims that AGA PACK Private Limited in Karachi is a specialized tea business, all of the machinery and equipment is owned by Unilever Pakistan. AGA PACK’s sole specialization is that it provides cheap, non-union labour.
The fact that AGA PACK was given much more information by Unilever Pakistan management about the new business arrangements after 1st October, suggests that ekaterra will maintain these precarious employment arrangements and disguised employment relationships. Instead of a fresh start to overcome the legacy of corruption, collusion and rights violations in the past, ekaterra appears more determined to limit the role of independent unions in the future. Yet the deception and misinformation used to launch its new business risks creating mistrust and uncertainty well beyond the Lipton workers at Khanewal.
In a major victory against the climate of fear created by “red-tagging”, more Coca-Cola workers in the Philippines have voted in favour of independent, democratic trade unions to defend their rights and interests.
On 21 July 2021, over 200 workers at two Coca-Cola bottling plants in Davao voted overwhelmingly in favour of SAMACOKE, the union affiliated to FCCU that is a member of the national trade union center SENTRO and IUF.
In a concerted effort to remove genuine, democratic trade unions from bottling plants and distribution centers across the Philippines, the local management of Coca-Cola Philippines created COCBLU in 2019. Newly employed Coca-Cola logistics workers were the first to be forced to sign up as members of COCBLU, often signing membership papers as a condition of their employment.
When the new campaign of fear through “red tagging” commenced, Coca-Cola management saw an opportunity to impose COCBLU on workers with the help of the military and police.
In voting against the management-controlled COCBLU on 21 July, workers demonstrated tremendous courage and conviction. It was not only a rejection of the intimidation and bullying that workers normally face with management-controlled unions. It was a courageous stand against months of ruthless intimidation by the police force and fear created by “red-tagging”.
The IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Secretary sent a message of congratulations to the members of SAMACOKE in Davao, praising them for their courage and declaring, “Until now red-tagging has been a war on worker and trade union rights. Through lies, disinformation, manipulation and intimidation, the government and ruthless employers have tried to determine which unions workers can choose to join. The SAMACOKE victory shows that workers still have a choice. It is a choice that is fundamental to protecting their jobs and livelihoods. It is a choice of dignity over fear. Dignity won today.”
After years of working in the luxurious Naga World Hotel Casino complex in Phnom Penh, over 1,300 workers were thrown out in a mass redundancy program.
Naga Corp, “one of the world’s most profitable gaming companies, and the largest gaming entertainment company in the Mekong Region“, claims the drastic cuts were necessary due to economic hardship.
But the real economic hardship is faced by workers who were already among the working poor due to low wages and the refusal of the company to bargain wages with the union, LRSU.
With wage cuts and non-payment of wages during the pandemic, workers ended up deeper in poverty. Now their forced redundancy has driven them even further into poverty and debt.
Please support the unfairly terminated workers at Naga World Hotel Casino by sending a protest message to the company. Click here to go to the IUF urgent action page to add your outrage and to demand decency!
On 19 June 2021 the 109th Session of the International Labour Conference passed the Resolution for a return to democracy and respect for fundamental rights in Myanmar. This resolution clearly reflects the tripartite commitment of governments, trade unions and employers to seek a restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
The resolution also clearly demonstrates that the right to freedom of association is integral to democracy and the exercise of democratic rights.
Unofficial Translations [PDF]
In this resolution the International Labour Conference calls upon Myanmar to:
(a) restore democratic order and civilian rule in Myanmar, and – once the democratically elected government has been restored – to amend without delay the Civil Services Personnel Law, the Settlement of Labour Disputes Law and the Labour Organization Law, consistent with the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No.87) ratified by
(b) cease all attacks, threats and intimidation by the military against workers, employers and their respective organizations, and the general population, including in relation to their peaceful participation in protest activities, as well as against religious and ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya, and immediately and unconditionally release from detention and withdraw any charges against all those arbitrarily detained;
(c) end the violation of human rights and ensure the restoration of fundamental principles and rights at work;
(d) respect Convention No. 87 and ensure that workers and employers are able to exercise their freedom of association rights in a climate of freedom and security, free from violence, arbitrary arrest and detention;
(e) repeal any measures or orders issued, or additional measures imposed, following the removal of the civilian government curtailing freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and measures restricting freedom of workers, employers and their respective organizations to undertake their activities freely and without threat of intimidation or harm;
(f) ensure safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to support all people in need.
Also see Back to barracks! The Tatmadaw must withdraw from all political, civil and economic affairs and restore Myanmar’s path to democracy [Feb 6, 2021]
After months of ignoring union calls to improve COVID-19 safety measures, Cambodia’s largest hotel leisure resort Naga World Hotel Casino announced the mass redundancy of over 1,300 workers for “business reasons”. The mass retrenchment includes over 600 union members and union leaders – including the union president, vice president and general secretary.
Only 18 months ago the union president Sithar Chhim was reinstated after strike action by union members against her unfair dismissal in September 2019. Now Sithar Chhim has been terminated again, along with union vice president Sokha Chun and union general secretary Sokhorn Chhim.
The integrated hotel casino resort is owned by the Hong Kong-listed NagaCorp which declares itself to be “one of the world’s most profitable gaming companies, and the largest gaming entertainment company in the Mekong Region.” On March 8, 2021 – exactly a month before the announcement of mass layoffs on April 8 – NagaCorp announced a USD 102 million profit and that 100% of the profits for the second half of 2020 will be paid out to “loyal” shareholders:
“As a reward to the Shareholders who believe in the long-term growth of the Group despite today’s difficult times and in order to alleviate any sufferings, if any, of these loyal Shareholders who have stayed on faithfully with us during the COVID-19 crisis, the Board has recommended an unprecedented 100% dividend payout of net profits generated for the second half of 2020 as final dividend for the year ended 31 December 2020.”
While millions were paid to shareholders for their loyalty, workers who worked throughout the pandemic received nothing for their loyalty. Instead the company chose to slash the jobs of over 1,300 workers. Unlike the company’s concern to “alleviate any sufferings” of shareholders, it created suffering for these workers and their families.
Under the guise of “consultation” management met with the union to announce its Rationalization Plan, but refused to explain why mass redundancy was the only option. Management also refused to explain how workers were chosen for redundancy.
Although management claims that the job roles of 1,300 workers will no longer exist, over 700 casual workers in insecure jobs will be re-deployed to fill these roles. Similarly, management’s assertion that job cuts are due automation hide the fact that the company deliberately accelerated its plans to introduce new technologies, displacing workers in a pandemic.
After years of refusing to recognize the right of the union to represent its members, management declared that any negotiation over redundancies would be individual not through the union, leaving each worker alone without any representation to be bullied by a multibillion dollar company. Without representation, information or options, and facing economic hardship after months of reduced wages, hundreds of workers were compelled to accept “voluntary” redundancy.
More than 600 union members refused redundancy and are demanding the right to negotiate the terms and conditions of restructuring through their union. Having already terminated the union leadership, management refuses to negotiate.
Over 2,000 union members have signed a mass petition to be submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training as a formal complaint, demanding reinstatement and an end rights violations and forced redundancies.
Following reports of two COVID-19 outbreaks in the Naga World Hotel Casino complex in Phnom Penh in February, the IUF-affiliated Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Naga World (LRSU) wrote three letters to management calling for stricter COVID-19 safety measures and to ensure workers’ rights to a safe workplace. Management ignored this and COVID-19 cases escalated, forcing a shutdown of operations. Now over 1,300 workers are being forced into redundancy, including the union leaders who called for improved safety.
The union also called for greater transparency and for management to share information with the union about these outbreaks. In its letter dated March 1, 2021, LRSU wrote:
On behalf of our 4,000 members at NagaWorld, we call on management to immediately apply comprehensive safety protocols and measures in accordance with WHO guidelines to limit the community spread of COVID-19 in the hotel casino complex [Naga 1 and Naga 2] and ensure the safety of our members and staffs. We are extremely concerned that we only learned of the COVID-19 cases at NagaWorld through media reports and individual workers. We received no information from management about the positive cases or what actions are being taken. In the absence of any information – including the names of those who suspect test positive for COVID-19 – it is impossible for us to assist in contact tracing and tracking. We believe this lack of transparency and cooperation significantly increases the risk for all 8,000 employees.
Management refused to provide any information to the union and forced workers to continue working. When casino customers from overseas who had already tested positive were allowed into the Naga 2 casino on February 25, police arrived to take them into custody. But within hours the casino was operating again and workers were ordered to keep working.
The union urgently requested testing for the casino to be closed for cleaning and for members to be tested. Management refused. On March 1, the union made five demands:
1. The management to immediately apply comprehensive safety protocols and measures in accordance with WHO guidelines to limit the community spread of COVID-19 in the hotel casino complex [Naga 1 and Naga 2] and ensure the safety of all staffs.
2. All workers of NagaWorld should remain at home without any punishment and on fully salary until it is declared safe.
3. All places in both building must do deep cleaning and disinfecting from specialist group.
4. Stop putting pressure on workers at all forms and all workers must have covid-19 test and confirm negative before return to workplace.
5. Stop suppressing information and to have greater transparency in tackling the community spread of COVID-19
Management again refused to respond to the union’s demands.
Management’s constant refusal to respond to union demands is part of a long history of denying workers the right to union representation. For more than two decades management has refused to fully recognize the union and dismissed union leaders in 2009 and 2019 attacked unions leaders.
In November 2019, management refused to respond to union calls for measures to protect workers from violence and abuse by customers.
Now in the pandemic – which is accelerating in Cambodia – management is determined to maintain its refusal to fully recognize and negotiate with the union. Even as it puts workers’ lives at risk.
The temporary closure of the hotel casino complex after these outbreaks is the direct result of management negligence. As the union states in its March 1 letter: “It appears that management was more concerned about preventing public awareness of possible community transmission at Naga World. Management instead gave priority to resuming business operations. This negligence put at risk the safety and health of customers and workers and the community as a whole.”
Management negligence is now costing hundreds of workers their jobs and livelihoods. Blaming the temporary closure for lost income, Naga World Hotel Casino is now laying off over 1,300 workers.
The union responded with REDUNDANCY NO! VACCINATION YES! – arguing that if workers are vaccinated and COVID-19 safety measures are put in place, then business can resume.
Management still refused to negotiate with the union. Instead the company escalated the attack on union rights by terminating the union president, vice president and general secretary who raised COVID-19 safety concerns in March.